Tennessee is set to take on the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium. Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs are white hot, steamrolling everything that comes in front of them. They haven’t given up more than 13 points all season long, in fact.
Josh Heupel’s year one Volunteers have been a nice surprise — do they have enough in the tank to hang with Georgia though?
Ahead of the game, we spoke with our friends over at Dawg Sports to learn a little more about the Bulldogs.
1) Georgia’s defense is naturally getting most of the headlines this season. But Georgia’s scoring nearly 40 points per game. How confident are UGA fans in their team’s offense, especially in the context of a November SEC road game?
Weirdly Bulldog fans seem less confident in their offense than the stats indicate they should be. Stetson Bennett is averaging a healthy 11.8 yards per attempt in the passing game and has the highest passer rating in the conference at 197.34 (Hendon Hooker of course is second). Georgia actually began the year without their first four wide receivers on the depth chart, starting a redshirt freshman, a true freshman, and two walk-ons against Clemson. But those guys have really matured and the veterans in front of them are now largely healthy. So for once the Red and Black are ready to sling it around if necessary.
But Georgia fans are a little concerned with the running game. While the ‘Dawgs are averaging a very solid 4.95 yards per run a look behind those numbers is more concerning. Georgia isn’t lining up and running between the tackles whenever it wants as in years past, in part because of youth and injuries on the offensive front. Instead Todd Monken has relied heavily on quick pitches, jet motion, and other strategies to get his quick playmakers, largely receivers, out to the edge for big chunk plays. That’s exciting, but in the minds of some fans it ain’t running the dang ball.
If Bulldog fans have an offensive concern in the context of this game, it’s that the offense will be forced into a track meet with the Vols because of an inability to pound the rock.
2) While we’re talking about the offense, how do you expect Kirby Smart to handle the QB position? Stetson Bennett’s been more than fine, but JT Daniels got some late-game time against Missouri, and most people tend to think he’s got the higher ceiling. Is there any need to rock the boat with a QB change in the midst of a dominating 7-0 season?
Prior to the Mizzou game there was a vocal contingent of Bulldog fans saying Smart needed to start JT Daniels. Smart has consistently said over the past three weeks or so that Daniels was healthy, but still rusty from the four week layoff. The results last Saturday pretty much bore that out. Daniels has a quicker release, a higher release point, and on his best throws looks the part of an All-American quarterback. But he did have a pick on a poorly thrown ball that was batted to the defender, and a couple of more throws that weren’t quite pinpoint accurate.
Bennett also adds an element of escapability that Daniels just doesn’t have. The Mailman doesn’t take off a lot, but when he does he’s averaging close to 7.2 yards per carry.
I expect there will come a point when JT Daniels has had enough snaps to get his rhythm back and take back the reins of the offense, but it won’t likely be this weekend. As things are currently constituted Bennett is the guy who’s playing better and he’ll get the start. Though I’d expect to see Daniels at some point.
3) Tennessee’s OL has been a patchwork entity for much of the season. Which pass rushers do Vol fans need to keep an eye on Saturday?
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this UGA defense is that they’re rewriting the record books without a lot of true stars. 22 different Bulldogs have recorded a tackle for loss and 15 have at least a partial sack. No Bulldog defender is even in the top 40 in tackles in the SEC because a) they rotate heavily at almost every position and b) they’ve forced so many three and outs and short drives that they just don’t have many chances to rack up those sort of stats.
But I would keep an eye on edge rusher Nolan Smith and inside linebacker Nakobe Dean, as well as linebacker Quay Walker. Smith only has 1.5 sacks on the year but he’s had some key QB pressures that led to big plays. Dean is a freak athlete who’s also one of the most technically polished pass rushers in college football. Walker is a versatile athlete who Georgia likes to use in pass coverage but, when they’ve broken tendency and brought him as a rusher the results have been great.
4) The Vols have been explosive on offense this year with five (5) plays of 70 yards or more, which is tied for the most in college football. While Hooker can definitely hit a WR running free down the field, the Vols have been particularly adept at breaking screen passes for big gains.
Is that something that UGA’s seen a bunch of this season? How well have the Dawg DBs been tackling lately?
Florida and Kentucky both tried to work the screen game against Georgia with little success. But it’s not just them. The Bulldogs haven’t given up a play of over 70 yards this season, and only 4 plays of 40+ yards (the next closest SEC total in that category is Missouri with 8, but Tennessee has surrendered 9).
Dan Lanning’s defense has excelled at lateral pursuit. They’re very disciplined and they tackle as well as any Georgia team I’ve seen. Tennessee has really good playmakers in that screen game and I expect them to break a few. But I’d be a little surprised is the Vols find consistent success with that approach.
5) In just his size and stature, Jordan Davis reminds me of Vol great John Henderson — except I don’t think Henderson was quite as fast. Plus-or-minus 2.5 on the number of players it takes to block Davis on a given play this Saturday?
It’ll only take two, but it takes two on every snap. That’s where Davis has really distinguished himself this season. It’s rare to see a guy of his size playing as many snaps as he does and bringing it on every play.
6) The latest betting line I’ve seen had Georgia favored by 20.5. Where would you put your hard-earned, American dollars?
I’d take Tennessee and the points, but Georgia straight up. I expect the Vols to score more points than anyone else has on this UGA defense. But I’ve seen enough of the Tennessee defense to know that the ‘Dawgs will also have some chances to break off big plays of their own. I don’t see the Vols holding Georgia under 30, and 30 points would be more than double the most that the Bulldogs have given up all year. Josh Heupel has things headed in the right direction in Knoxville, but I just don’t think the Vols have arrived yet.